A Christmas Tree Story

Decatur chemistry teacher recounts childhood on Christmas tree farm


Eight-year-old Sean DeWeese walks around a field, picking up rocks from the ground. He, along with his father and brother, work for hours until the whole field is clear. They are on the site of their future Christmas tree farm which will open four years later. Little did they know that in 40 years, Sleepy Hollow Tree Farm would expand to a 60 acre establishment that sells thousands of trees each year.

DeWeese’s father, Perry, created the farm. Before creating the farm, he first worked as a software specialist at Lockheed Martin, an aerospace company. He later decided to start a side business selling Christmas trees with the help of his two sons, DeWeese and Stephen.

“We just started clearing fields. It used to be where we had a garden, and we just started planting trees there and you could cut down more, clear more land and, you know, plant more trees,” DeWeese said.

Though Christmas trees are usually purchased in November and December, year-round work is needed to produce a quality product. Each tree requires special care; it has to be planted individually, sprayed frequently to exterminate insects and fungi and shaped periodically. Perry would cut the branches of trees while they grew in order to maintain the ideal Christmas tree shape. Along with numerous other jobs, DeWeese had to keep the field clear and tidy by maintaining the grass. This was done so customers could walk between the trees.

The first tree planted at the Sleepy Hollow farm was a Virginia Pine, a popular type of Christmas tree. The Virginia Pines grew well in Georgia’s hot climate. These pines call for extra work so they would visually look appealing for customers.

Information courtesy of the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

“Virginia Pine[s] would actually start to yellow in the winter. It was still an evergreen, but it would turn yellow-ish, and we actually had to spray them with green dye for the Christmas season,” DeWeese said.

The work DeWeese did was “backbreaking.” He and his family had limited access to labor and would pay their friends to work during the winter season. They would stand outside all day long in the freezing cold during the selling season. He would help customers pick out their trees, cut them down and bring them to their cars.

“When I first started, [the field] was a five-minute walk behind the house. People [would] come and park on the street. We’d walk out [to the field] with them, cut the tree down, haul it back out the front, bang all of the dead needles out and tie it to the car. We had to do that over and over again for 12 hours a day for five weekends.”

DeWeese’s least favorite job took place during the summertime when he worked in the hot sun spraying chemicals with his dad. DeWeese would drive a lawnmower equipped with a 40-gallon tank filled with pesticides, and his dad would sit in the back spraying the trees. It was a tedious job because if he drove too slow, it would be an inefficient process by wasting the chemicals. If he drove the lawnmower too fast, he could risk injuring his father and the trees would not be sprayed enough. However, DeWeese did not dislike all the work in which he had to do. His favorite job was selling the trees. “It was just fun cutting them down and then hauling them around. I had to lie [in order] to sell it to the people. It’s like being a salesman. It was fun,” DeWeese said.

DeWeese got to experience two different worlds, one as a farmer’s son, and the other as a software specialist’s son. DeWeese and Stephen, his brother, went to school and came home without having to work on the farm because their father worked during the weekdays.

“We always had work to do. It’s that farm life where we were all trying to get it done on the weekends,” DeWeese said.

Where he lived, many kids his age had families who made their whole living working on a farm, and DeWeese got to experience both lifestyles.

“[In Paulding County], there were a lot of people who grew up on farms [and] actually worked just as farmers. You know, for us, it was just a side job,” he said.

The farm has been open for nearly 40 years and its attractions have grown along with the land. The farm started off with only a few acres of land but has grown to 60 acres.

“So the first year [that the farm was open], we sold a little less than 50 trees. Now, [the farm] sells several hundred trees. They actually order trees from out of state, and in a weekend or two, they sell over a thousand [imported trees],” he said.

Located just 45 minutes outside of Atlanta, the farm has become a popular spot for family outings. The activities offered at the farm have also grown since opening as well. Deweese used to drive the tractor for hayrides when we worked on the farm.

“We had a trailer, put some hay bales on it, and drove [the customers] around in circles. That was my job at one point: driving in circles all day,” Deweese said. 

The petting zoo is inhabited by pigs, sheep, goats and a miniature pony. This goats waits to greet the eager customers.

Currently, the farm includes a pumpkin patch, corn maze, petting zoo, hay rides and outdoor escape games, called Escape Woods. One of them is based off of the Netflix original show “Stranger Things.” Part of the second season of the show was filmed at the farm. The escape games, pumpkin patch and corn maze are the most popular events in the fall. The farm also has a lot of events for kids to participate in such as have a cow milking station, slide, large checkerboard, jousting station and swings year round. During the Christmas season, they have a milk and cookies event with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.

The DeWeese family endured a hectic Christmas season preparing the farm for the influx of customers. Despite this, they still came together as a family to celebrate Christmas by participating in common holiday events such as decorating a tree, setting up a nativity scene and opening presents on Christmas morning.

They also had traditions specific to their family and the farm. DeWeese’s mother fed the workers and made wreaths out of the leftover Christmas tree trimmings, gifting them to their friends and family.

“I remember my mom used to always make chili for us to eat when we were working,” DeWeese said. “It was easy to feed a bunch of people when you could just go in and get it whenever you needed to or whenever you had a break.”

DeWeese worked on the farm until he started college. Neither DeWeese nor Stephen continued to work on the farm. Currently, the farm is run by their sisters Chrissie and Suzie who are responsible for many of the changes in the farm since DeWeese worked there. DeWeese might not have had the best experience, but he understands the farm had an impact on his and his family’s lives.

“It was a big part of what we did,” DeWeese said.

Photos by Taylor Dowdy, Sarah Ozio and Ashley Seaborn.

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